Environmental control is one of the most effective ways to relieve allergy symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s also the most underused.
It shouldn’t be! Environmental control means, simply, minimizing your exposure to the allergens that trigger your sniffles, sneezes, watery eyes, sinusitis, or asthma. And thanks to a range of new products, that’s easier than ever to do.
The list of recommended environmental control steps may sound daunting at first, but you may get all the relief you need after taking only one or two of them. Some children, for example, stop wheezing after their parents remove stuffed animals from their bedrooms. For some sniffling, sneezing adults, just enclosing bed pillows in mite-proof covers does the trick.
Start your environmental control campaign in your bedroom-that’s the room where you spend at least a third of each day. Dust mites thrive here, colonizing mattresses, pillows, drapes, carpets, upholstered furniture and stuffed animals, particularly in humid climates. The tiny creatures feed off the skin cells we constantly slough off, then excrete microscopic proteins that trigger allergy misery in susceptible people.
Home dust-mite diagnostic kits are now available from several companies. The kits attach to standard vacuum cleaners. After you vacuum up a sample, you send it in for laboratory analysis. The tests can tell you whether dust mites have invaded your home; they can also help you monitor the effectiveness of your mite-fighting efforts.
You might start with mite-proof casings for your pillows, mattresses and boxsprings. They’re available at some department stores and by mail-order from allergy-control companies. Newer ones feature soft fabric on the outside and withstand dozens of hot-water washings. Cover the zippers with masking or packing tape so that mites can’t infiltrate. Wipe or vacuum the coverings weekly when you change your sheets.
Wash Bedding in Hot Water
Be sure to wash all your bedding regularly-in hot water. Coldwater doesn’t kill mites effectively. Launder curtains frequently, too, or switch to window shades that can be wiped clean when you dust.
Eliminate as much overstuffed or fabric-covered furniture in the bedroom as possible. Reduce clutter. Remove stuffed animals from children’s bedrooms. Avoid using humidifiers or vaporizers, which can encourage mold as well as mites.
Ban dogs, cats, rabbits, and rodents from the bedroom, if not the house.
Smoking and/or exposure to second hand smoke is especially hazardous for asthma and allergy sufferers. Ban all smoking from inside the house. If a family member or guest must smoke-send them outside.
Small, portable high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) or electrostatic filters are practical in bedrooms and other small rooms that can be shut off from the rest of the house, such as the family room. They not only filter out household allergens, but pollens and molds that drift in from outside as well. During hot weather, an air conditioner may provide all the protection you need from outdoor allergens-but only if you maintain it well and change the filter at least once a month.
Don’t overlook the filters in your central heater. Change them at least monthly during periods of peak use. At less than $1 apiece, these are the most cost-effective means of reducing airborne allergens in your bedroom and throughout your house.
Vacuuming regularly is important. The trouble is, conventional vacuum cleaners merely redistribute mites and molds in a room. Royal Appliance makes an integrated vacuum and filter that traps dust, pollen, bacteria and other particles down to 0.1 micron in size. Nilfisk makes a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter for allergy sufferers. Or, buy a filter designed to fit over the exhaust pipe of your conventional vacuum cleaner, and look for vacuum-cleaner bags designed to trap microscopic dust particles. Some allergy sufferers prefer to get rid of carpet in the bedroom altogether.
When you’re dusting, vacuuming or brushing the dog, an adjustable face-mask with a filter capable of screening out microscopic particles-available from 3M and other companies-can be a tremendous boon.
A chemical solution can also help reduce mites and other allergens that accumulate in carpeting and fabrics. These products, containing either tannic acid or benzyl benzoate, can be sprayed on or added to cleaning water. Commercially available, they’re both cost-effective and practical.
Molds are partial to bathrooms, laundry rooms and other moist environments. They thrive in fish tanks, pet bedding, houseplants, and wicker baskets. They can be found along baseboards, windowsills and in the space between walls. Gardens, planter boxes and even dense shrubbery and trees provide havens for mold outside your house.
Widely available mold retardants and fungicides (Captan, Impregnon) can provide significant benefit. Apply them to mold-prone areas of your home, observing precautions on the labels. To clean mold from tile and other hard surfaces, try a weak solution of hydrochloric acid. Dehumidifiers can be effective in closets and bedrooms. Cleaning your rain gutters, repairing leaky windows and roofs, and maintaining your landscaping also help.
Pollen and Pollution
What about outdoor pollen and pollution, which can aggravate your allergies? The outdoor environment, of course, is the most difficult to control. But people allergic to pollen can take steps to reduce their exposure even here.
First, you can pay careful attention to seasons and weather conditions, and try to stay indoors as much as possible on days when pollen is heavy. Keep the windows closed and use your air conditioner. An electrostatic or HEPA air cleaner may be helpful. Shower and shampoo at night rather than in the morning, so that you aren’t breathing throughout the night those pollens you accumulated in your hair during the day.
Avoid yardwork if you’re severely allergic. If you must garden, wear a face-mask filter, long-sleeved clothing and gloves. Afterward, shower and change clothes.
Environmental control is the safest, most side-effect-free method of allergy control available. You not only stand to feel better, but you may be able to avoid the need for costly medications and visits to the doctor. If you’re wheezing and sneezing, it’s certainly worth a try.